Everyone loves insects I’m sure. While intellectually we all know that creatures like, ants, wasps, spiders (which are not insects), arthropods and others all serve a purpose sometimes it seems that purpose is to eat our crops. Everything we grow, there is a pest that eats or damages it. With luck and some knowledge we can mitigate the damage done by these organisms.
Certainly the best thing we can do is to keep damage from happening, or to minimize it upon first noticing it. So how is this accomplished? Some say that companion planting is the first defense against pests. Unfortunately the science is not very deep on this subject. This is not to say that companion planting does not work only that it does not have much in the way of peer-reviewed research done on the subject. If the majority of your agricultue exposure is through gardening or perhaps smaller scale organic/permacultural operations then by all means some experimentation with companion planting cannot hurt.
A much more researched method of pest control and one I have more experience in is the use of biological controls. This is of course the use of beneficial insects as predators to control the target pest population. This method requires multiple steps, the first of which is having host plants that can support your planned predatory insects. Lady beetles, predatory spider mites, lacewings, and predatory wasps can all act as biological control insect species. Each will eat different pest species and do so in differing quantities. Using this method will work best in enclosed spaces to keep the target insect population as high as possible for the longest period of time. Low tunnels, cold frames, and greenhouses all are ideal settings for this method. Also of concern with this method is that use of traditional pesticides will affect not only pest species but also beneficial insects and as such is not advised except as a last messure.
Right now I personally am experimenting with companion planting in my back yard garden. I have however witnessed the effectiveness of biological controlls within the research greenhouse setting. What do you think about trying to manage pests around your own crops?